Walsall Council has announced that Bloxwich Library is one of six libraries to have been saved from possible closure in a dramatic press briefing reported on by local news media today.
But the news is by no means all good, as hundreds of jobs are still set to be axed and nine libraries (at Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pelsall, Pleck, Pheasey, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood) will shut under budget proposals announced by the local authority.
Council tax will also rise by 4.99%, as the local Labour-Lib Dem coalition is pressured by massive budget cuts enforced by national government.
The New Art Gallery at Walsall, which was potentially under the threat of eventual closure, also seems set to be secured as the council looks to develop a new business model for it, and according to various reports Wolverhampton University has shown an interest in partnership working.
According to the BBC, a £3.5m funding bid to Arts Council England and other stakeholders has been submitted to develop a new business model for the New Art Gallery. The council has apparently mooted selling off naming rights to the gallery, but Council leader Sean Coughlan has insisted it would not be “the McDonald’s Art Gallery”.
Walsall Leather Museum is also expected to remain where it is, but Walsall Local History Centre will be moved from Essex Street into the Walsall Central Library building, requiring external document storage elsewhere. Detailed plans have not yet been announced.
Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall libraries have all been saved, while Streetly library will be community run.
Walsall Council, which late last year engaged in a public consultation about the drastic “savings’ it had identified must be made, has said it must save £86m by 2020.
281 jobs are set to go, either through voluntary or compulsory redundancy, another 139 vacant posts will be not be filled. Meanwhile, remaining Walsall Council staff will face another year-long pay freeze.
Cllr Coughlan is reported by the BBC website to have said that libraries faced “one of the most profound and stark cuts”.
“Every political side knew we had to do something about libraries and that’s what we have had to do,” he said.
“We have faced the biggest cuts this council’s ever had before.”
Council tax for Band D properties will rise to £1,744.04, including precepts – subject to confirmation of final precepts – up from £1663.29. Originally the rise was to be 3.99 per cent but now central government, which had massively cut the grant to Walsall Council in the first place, has allowed the council to raise their tax by an extra one per cent provided it is ring fenced for social care.
According to the Express & Star, the Forest Arts Centre will not be cut in 2017/18 and the council will also to continue to maintain cricket pitches and bowling greens in the borough – something it originally proposed to scrap. Plans to stop cleaning markets after they have closed has also been scrapped, while seven front line posts connected to street cleaning are being reinstated.
All these proposals and many more will have to be approved at a full council meeting in February.
Experts from the Royal Horticultural Society continued their tour of Walsall’s five district centres last Wednesday as part of this year’s ‘Heart of England in Bloom’ competition.
This time, Bloxwich and Brownhills were put under the horticultural spotlight, to see if they will go forward to the next stages of the national event.
Before the official walkabout started, judges Graham Redfern and Trish Willetts were joined in the Promenade Gardens, at the northern end of Bloxwich High Street, Walsall’s Mayor, Councillor Kath Phillips and Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, portfolio holder for community, leisure and culture. Both councillors represent Bloxwich East. Local volunteers also joined them on their inspection tour, as well as the youngest gardener of them all – Councillor Fitzpatrick’s
Local volunteers from groups including the Rotary Club of Bloxwich Phoenix, St Giles Walsall Hospice and the new Bloxwich Carnival Queen plus Council staff also joined them on their inspection tour, as well as the youngest gardener of them all – Councillor Fitzpatrick’s one-year-old grandson.
Ready to rock!
Bloxwich and Brownhills were well prepared though, and with the help of local volunteers, businesses and school children – did their towns proud.
The earlier and dedicated planting, pruning and watering schedule meant that the judges were greeted and treated to a truly groomed and colour splashed landscape, which has been the subject of much comment locally. All five of this year’s entries are competing in the Urban Community Category and were co-ordinated by Walsall Council’s district centre management team.
Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick said “The Mayor and I were very proud to escort the Royal Horticultural Society judges. All the hard work that went into the tour was very much in evidence as Bloxwich and Brownhills were absolutely blooming and brilliant.
“Results like this don’t happen overnight – it takes real community planning, commitment and structure and underlines the importance we place on raising the profile of the five district centres. I’m sure the Royal Horticultural Society was impressed by the large scale planting projects that we have in place and the infectious team spirit that was out yesterday in spades!”
The Heart of England in Bloom competition annually attracts over 1,350 entries from small villages to large cities. If successful the five district centres could go forward into the national Britain in Bloom event.
This year’s Judges will be looking at three main categories which are
The Heart of England Regional Awards Ceremony will take place in Aldridge on 15 September 2016 at the Church Rooms Aldridge Green.
The eagerly awaited opening date for both Bloxwich and Oak Park Active Living Centres became reality this week when the keys for both centres were handed over by contractors. This significant moment marked the beginning stages to the run-up of their opening on Tuesday 9 August.
The new multi-million pound centres, which each include a 25 metre swimming pool, teaching pool, six court sports hall, dance studio and cafe will be fitted out over the coming weeks with state of the art station fitness suites in time for their opening to the public. Oak Park is also able to offer two glass backed squash courts, sauna and a steam room. The full size, floodlit artificial grass pitch at Oak Park will be replaced over the autumn.
Bloxwich East Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, Portfolio Holder for Community, Leisure and Culture said: “Opening these doors for the first time is very exciting.
“It is truly wonderful to be able to take possession of these buildings and brings us ever closer to realising the Council’s commitment to improve the health and wellbeing of residents by getting more people, more active, more often.
“Over the coming weeks the two centres will be a hive of activity and the excitement of everyone working to get these centres ready is positively brimming over.
“Our customers are about to be able to access some truly iconic and outstanding facilities that they can be really proud of. Over the coming days we look forward to being able to launch our activity programmes ready to open both centres on Tuesday 9 August.”
Controversially, Bloxwich’s historic 1920s-30s public baths, originally an open air pool and converted into a function hall when the first Bloxwich Leisure Centre was built in 1991, was demolished to make way for the new car park of the new facility now on the site.
The old baths were also once a well-known event and live music venue, presenting famous acts like Jerry Lee Lewis in the 1960s, and are well-remembered by Slade glam rock singing star Noddy Holder in a new film made recently as part of the Bloxwich ReDiscover project by Students of Walsall Academy in Bloxwich. More recently, the building acted as the venue for the annual Bloxwich Carnival Senior Citizens’ Party.
Funded through the Council’s £24.3 million Active Living Centres initiative, the latest project received a £2m grant from Sport England’s “Iconic” facilities award scheme to support Walsall Council’s aspiration to improve Walsall residents’ overall health and well-being.
A man who fly-tipped household waste and who was caught on camera has been ordered to pay £1,901.71.
Mr Duane Greenaway of the Beechdale Estate, Bloxwich, was filmed at Rayboulds Bridge Road fly tipping on Sunday 17 May 2015.
Known as a hotspot for illegal fly tipping, Mr Greenaway was filmed at the location illegally dumping 21 plastic bags of rubble and excavation debris removed from his house.
Magistrates at Walsall courts were shown footage of Mr Greenway removing the bags from a white Nissan Vanette and emptying them on to land by the side of the road at the site of the disused cul-de-sac.
In mitigation the courts were told that 53 year old Mr Greenaway had removed the debris from his garden to improve access for his elderly relatives and was not doing it on a commercial basis.
On 27 June Mr Greenaway pleaded guilty at Walsall Magistrates Court and was fined £740 for the offence. On top of this he was ordered to pay costs of £ 1,087.71, with a victim surcharge of £74.
Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, who’s Portfolio includes public protection stated: “These types of activities show a total disregard for the environment and will not be tolerated.
“Fly tipping has a cost to the tax payers and we each have a responsibility to tackle this reprehensible behaviour head on and we will vigorously pursue a prosecution.
“A person witnessing someone dumping waste and wishing to report should record the following details; location of the incident; day, date, and time; type and quantity of waste; vehicle details including make and type of vehicle, colour, registration number, noticeable markings and the name or description of the person fly tipping.
“This information can be reported by emailing Clean and Green at email@example.com or you can contact the following telephone number: Walsall Council Contact Centre 01922 653344.”
Walsall Council has announced that collections of grey household waste bins across the borough will be cut from weekly to fortnightly from October 2016.
Most households in the borough currently have a small 140 litre grey rubbish bin, a 240 litre brown bin for garden waste and a 240 litre green bin for recycling. Under the reduced service, grey bins will be collected on the same day as the green bins.
With grey rubbish bins being emptied less often, some larger households and households with extra medical waste may find that their existing grey rubbish bin is not big enough. If you think this will apply to you, you can use a form on the Council website apply for a bigger bin. To be eligible for a bigger bin you must meet the criteria detailed on the Council website. See:
The closing date for larger bin applications is Monday 13 June 2016, so you are advised to get your application in as soon as possible. Please note that if you apply after 13 June your application will still be processed, however, if eligible, your new bin(s) may not be delivered in time for when the new service starts. One application per household only.
For further information about Walsall’s bin collection service, see their website:
Tomorrow, Thursday 5th May 2016, sees both this year’s round of Walsall Council elections and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner election take place, and anyone who has registered to vote is entitled and encouraged to do so. In fact, it’s very important that everyone who can vote, does – that’s how democracy works, and if you don’t have your say, you can hardly complain when policies are put in place which you don’t like.
This year’s elections in Walsall are, of course, not for all Councillors, but enough are being elected or potentially re-elected that the balance of power at Walsall Council could potentially swing from the present Conservative control to Labour, or indeed no overall control, so your vote really could make a difference, whichever candidate or party you wish to vote for.
In particular, this year the planning of yet more massive cuts forced on Walsall Council by the national Conservative government means that your local services could be significantly affected by which party gets into power in Walsall, so your vote really could make a serious difference, particularly with regard to a number of library closures, for example, which are expected to go ahead if a Conservative council is returned. If you are not sure about which cuts are planned in your electoral district, or want to complain about them, ask your local councillors – that’s what they are there for.
Voters in Walsall Metropolitan Borough should all by now have received their poll cards or, if necessary, had their opportunity to make a postal vote. Just as a reminder you can find a list of all the Walsall Council candidates who are up for election tomorrow, the locations of polling stations and more information about the elections in general, including the Police and Crime Commissioner election, on the Walsall M.B.C. website:
Musicians and performers throughout the borough are being invited to take centre stage at Walsall Arboretum’s bandstand this summer.
Following the success of last year’s appeal for performers Walsall Arboretum rangers are asking for more of the same. Slots are currently available for both Saturdays and Sundays between the Spring Bank Holiday Weekend until the end of the season in September.
As well as musicians and singers organisers are keen to hear from poets and local artists wanting to showcase their talents to live audiences.
Councillor Harrison, Portfolio holder for Clean and Green stated: “Last year the bandstand was a buzz of activity throughout the summer months and provided some top notch entertainment by artists who did it for free.
“What really stands out is that these performers do it for the love they have for their art form and that really shines through to the audiences who were able to enjoy hours of fabulous entertainment.
“We would be really keen for the Arboretum bandstand to be the focal points for park visitors once again so organisers would love to hear from anyone interested in taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Gary Nicholson, Arboretum head ranger, added: “The range of entertainment on offer in recent years has been truly uplifting and has offered a wide and varied range of offerings that have appealed to all age ranges.”
Performers thinking of taking part should send their you tube clips/CDs/links or videos to Gary Nicholson, Arboretum head ranger at firstname.lastname@example.org , together with contact details and a series of available dates.
Public consultation on Walsall Council’s draft budget proposals to close up to 7 libraries across the borough and cease the Mobile Library service was concluded at the beginning of January. Nearly 2,000 questionnaires were returned and 435 face to face interviews have taken place. Since then the feedback from this consultation has been analysed and evaluated.
The Council’s Cabinet are carefully considering the feedback and the impact of the current proposals on the most vulnerable sections of the population.
Councillor Mike Bird, Leader of the Council stated: “We welcome the way people have come forward to tell us their views on our proposals and we are listening to what they are telling us.
“Cabinet are minded to review the current proposals and amend it to retain a mobile library which will continue to offer a library service to those most in need and to consider how the introduction of new technologies might offer a solution in some areas”
Councillor Harris, Portfolio Holder for Community Leisure and Culture said: “There has been a tremendous amount of work done on this issue and we continue to work with the community in those areas where libraries have been proposed for closure and to minimise the impact.
“It’s the policy of this Council to sustain and maintain the library service and to find a local solution.
“We are still in the process of confirming potential partners in all of the areas affected and we are actively pursuing these negotiations so that local people will still have access to books and learning at a local level.”
Branch libraries at Beechdale, Blakenall Heath, New Invention, Pleck, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood could close under the cost-cutting proposals. The axing of the mobile library service and 13 jobs was proposed as part of a bid to save £328,854 this year and £159,058 next year, forced by national government budget cuts.
New technology including self-service machines and a new smart card entry system is also planned at libraries which remain open. Around £300,000 could be invested in some of the remaining nine libraries to bring in a new management system, allowing visitors to use them when they are unstaffed. Customers would be given a special card and PIN to access the libraries when they are unmanned, with CCTV keeping watch and a book detection system used to keep track of items leaving the building.
The home library service which delivers books to residents who are housebound would continue.
This year’s Remembrance Sunday in Bloxwich was indeed one to remember, mostly for all the right reasons – but was also an event dogged by confusion and controversy.
Most importantly, the local community came together in their hundreds once again as they have done since the 1920s, to remember and honour in silence and in song those fallen in war and conflict, especially local servicemen and women and the other victims of war – and to hope for that peace which is the right of all but which is so rarely found in this world.
It has to be said, however, that the day was sadly somewhat tarnished by the controversy over the cancellation of the traditional High Street parade of veterans and local groups, including youth groups, who enthusiastically but thoughtfully gather to march each year.
Conspiracy theories and confusion
Confusion over the reasons behind the parade’s cancellation resulted in understandably angry but sometimes, it has to be said, ill-informed mutterings on local social media and on the streets of Bloxwich and district. Some of that was to be expected, as information was at first scarce and communication from organisers who were desperately trying to rescue the event and other official channels was sometimes confused. But then the publicising of the Bloxwich event has never been very good and always last minute, something which needs to be rectified in future.
No Legion, no parade
Variously blaming Walsall Council, local councilors, Walsall Police and others, these stirrings mostly missed the main reason why the parade was cancelled and re-scheduled as a short march through the grounds of All Saints Church. This was, as was widely reported in the Bloxwich Telegraph, primarily down to the demise of the Bloxwich branch of the Royal British Legion, presumably due to insufficient local support, in 2013. This meant that, due to a combination of health and safety law and official red tape, as well as perfectly reasonable safety concerns, together with the unwillingness of the Royal British Legion to extend insurance for the march without a local branch, the usual parade could not go ahead.
Overshadowing this primary problem was the issue of nationwide police cuts due to our national Conservative government’s ‘austerity’ policies, something which has received a massive amount of media coverage in recent weeks. Even had there been a branch of the Legion to insure and organise a parade, our sources informed us, it would almost certainly have been cut back due to there being half as many police available to marshal road closures as last year. This is a situation likely to get worse next year.
The Bloxwich Royal British Legion must be reformed
So, it is absolutely essential that a new branch of the Royal British Legion be formed in Bloxwich, so that local veterans may be supported locally, so that funds may contnue to be raised for the charity, and so that Bloxwich people may see the return of their traditional Remembrance Sunday parade.
Thankfully, local interest in forming such a branch is already taking shape, and anyone who is interested in helping and taking part is invited to contact the Legion’s local contact, Mr Bill Griffiths, by telephoning 07944869687 or 01922 492064.
The present police cuts and the prospect of more of the same next year may call the parade’s future into question again, even if, as is hoped, a new branch of the Legion rises phoenix-like in Bloxwich in time for Remembrance Sunday 2016. It looks like any future organisers will have to fund and organise at least part of the traffic management themselves, due to reduced numbers of police available.
Between now and then, Bloxwich people will really have to ‘step up to the plate’ and help. After all, Remembrance is for life, not just Remembrance Sunday.
Bloxwich can still be proud
But whatever happens next year, Bloxwich can at least be proud that disaster was largely averted this year by the hard work of public-spirited local councillors, All Saints Church and representatives of other churches, many local groups and police – and not least the veterans themselves – who came together with other local people to organise a shortened march through the church grounds and a massively well-supported Service of Remembrance within the church itself.
Not only that, thanks should also be offered to those many local people who, whether unable to get into the church or determined, as Bloxwich folk often are, to stand up for Bloxwich and for tradition, still gathered round the Bloxwich War Memorial to pay their respects as in days gone by.
Hopefully, everyone who turned out in church or on the streets of Bloxwich on Sunday last will actively support the future of the Royal British Legion and Remembrance in Bloxwich as well as looking to the past – otherwise it may have no future!
Bloxwich is to lose its popular Remembrance Sunday parade this weekend, amid a storm of media reports highlighting government police cuts as the cause of reduced road closure support for such events this year. Officially, the cancellation of the cherished Bloxwich parade has been blamed on the closure of the village’s local branch of the Royal British Legion in 2013.
However, even though there will be no Bloxwich High Street parade, a Service of Remembrance organised to partially rescue the much-loved event at the last minute will still take place, at a new venue – All Saints Church, Bloxwich – this Sunday 8th November, beginning at 10.30am, and all are welcome. Following the service, wreaths will be laid at the nearby Bloxwich War Memorial.
A perfect storm
Austerity-driven cuts in public services nationwide and the confusion surrounding the loss of one of Bloxwich’s most important annual events, as well as reported policing issues with other such events boroughwide, have combined to create a perfect storm of angry public opinion, both on social media and amongst local people in person, blaming the police, the council and the government, but official messages have been vague till now.
Reliable sources have told the Bloxwich Telegraph that the reason for there being no parade in Bloxwich this year – and possibly in future years – is due to the closure of the Bloxwich Branch of the Royal British Legion in 2013, which has resulted in there being no official organiser for the event in 2015.
Had there been a Legion branch in charge of the event, we are informed, Walsall Police would have been happy to work with event organisers and deploy what police numbers they had available on the day. However, according to Bloxwich East Councillor Julie Fitzpatrick, it would not have been possible to have a parade down Bloxwich High Street with the small numbers of police expected to be available anyway.
The Walsall Advertiser newspaper recently published a news item about the parade cancellation, quoting Councillors Julie and Shaun Fitzpatrick on the matter. They were approached by Walsall Police to see if they could help because of their well-known community work, and they did their level best to try and rescue the parade, sadly without success.
We subsequently published an outline of why the parade was unlikely to go ahead, based on information received from Mrs Fitzpatrick and a local representative of the Royal British Legion, Mr Bill Griffiths:
“Due to cuts to the police budgets, last year in Bloxwich we had 12 police to maintain public safety during the parade, this year we have 5. Due to this the High Street cannot be used and we are looking at alternative options at this time which have yet to be confirmed.”
Inspector Keeley Bevington of Walsall Police has since issued a statement to the Bloxwich Telegraph via Kevin Pitt of the force’s Walsall Partnerships Team:
“Please contact Cllr Julie Fitzpatrick who is fully aware of the issues in Bloxwich and who has worked hard on this. In short there is no Royal British Legion Branch in Bloxwich and no organiser for the parade. The Council and Police legally need the details of an organiser with liability cover to allow the event to go ahead but due to the RBL not supporting activity in this area then there is no-one that can take on this responsibility which leaves issues around health and safety and organiser liability.
“All other areas where the events are taking place have an RBL organiser supporting the event with the appropriate liability cover. The church and individuals do not feel that the public liability would be covered by their own insurances so cannot volunteer as organisers. The only event taking place is at the church service and then after in the church grounds.
“I know this is disappointing but without RBL support this cannot be progressed. Please be assured a lot of work has been undertaken by police, council and councillors to try and find an RBL member with liability to support this but they do not have a branch in this area. There are around 9 other events taking place where RBL branches exist with an organiser across Walsall. I can confirm it is not the police or council stopping the parade but that the RBL have not asked for an event and are not supporting one in this area as there is no branch.”
New arrangements for Sunday
All Saints Church have thankfully stepped in to provide the venue for the now curtailed event, as it was necessary for there to be public liability cover, and this already applies to events within the church and grounds.
Groups traditionally involved in the Bloxwich event attended a meeting to discuss the new arrangements at the church on Monday evening, to discuss how the service should go and how they could take part.
The marching band and groups will now march within the church grounds then go into the church at 10.30am. The service of Remembrance will take place in the church and Rev Roger Williams, Rector of Bloxwich, is organising loudspeakers so that anyone outside the church can hear it. The aim is to get as many people in the church as possible.
After the national anthem the usual representatives will leave and place their wreaths around the War Memorial.
What’s more, we understand from Brownhills Bob that the Walsall Wood parade has never had an organiser, which calls into question at least some of the official reasoning behind the cancellation of the Bloxwich event.
There will likely be no Bloxwich Remembrance parade next year also, if as seems probable there continues to be no official organiser for the Bloxwich Remembrance Sunday. Sources have also implied that there will probably be even fewer police available by then, and this is supported by national news stories about police cuts this past week.
Because of the confusion, the Bloxwich Telegraph has done its best to help clarify the matter for local people, and we would be grateful if our readers would share this post with their friends and others to help spread the word.
Needless to say, our editor Stuart Williams will be attending the service as always.
Covering Bloxwich, Little Bloxwich, Blakenall Heath, Leamore and Birchills